Archive for March, 2008

google’s main nav bar is messed up

March 23rd, 2008

Can someone explain this to me? When you’re on the main page of Google, at the top, there’s this navigational menu:

…but when you go into Gmail or any of the other “Google Apps,” it’s:

And don’t even get me started about the “More” dropdown — from the main page, it looks like this:

…but in Gmail, it looks like this:

…this is messed up, right? My feeling has always been that the First Rule of Navigational User Interface Elements Club is that navigational user interface elements should not move around — they should be kept completely consistent throughout a site. The only thing I can fathom is that Google is trying to group “like with like,” i.e. if you like Gmail you’ll love Reader, etc., and once you’re in the pantheon of Google products you’ll use the (also inconsistently implemented) “Search the Web” button available there instead popping back out to the main page. Also: the nav bars seem to be sorted alphabetically, for what that’s worth, which is not much.

One of the nice things the Mac OS X Dock has is a degree of predictability: the user can place their favorite apps in the Dock in order from left to right and be fairly sure the next time they look, the apps will be there, in order, where they put them — sometimes a little larger, sometimes a little smaller, but there. Contrast this with the Windows Start Menu, which I swear to God sometimes changes content and position while I’m in the middle of clicking around in it. Consistency is important, especially as Google moves to position their product line as a full suite of apps, and a consistent user interface is way more useful and important than a tangential marketing opportunity.


fix the podcast update schedule in iTunes

March 22nd, 2008

Does this sound familiar to you? You connect your iPod or iPhone to iTunes in Mac OS X to sync, but because iTunes’ built-in podcast update schedule is so oddly sparse, you find you have to hit “Refresh” on the podcast tab to actually check for new podcasts, then after it checks for, finds, and downloads the new podcasts, you have to sync again!? There’s got to be a better way!!:

  1. Download Cronnix.
  2. Create a new cron item that looks like this:

    That command, by the way, is this:
    osascript -e "tell application \"iTunes\" to updateAllPodcasts"

  3. Save. What you just did was create a little one-line reoccurring cron script that fires off every hour on the 30 minute mark that will (launch iTunes if it’s not running and then) tell iTunes to check for and download new episodes of your favorite podcasts.


EXTRA CREDIT: There’s probably a better way to do this via launchd. In Mac OS X 10.5 and above, Launchd = teh new hotness!, whereas cron = teh old and busted — but honestly, I just couldn’t quite get the syntax right. My guess is that the osascript command that passes to iTunes would have to be escaped as normal, and then escaped again for the launchd XML file. So if you can figure it out, let me know.

ADDITIONAL EXTRA CREDIT: If anyone knows of a way to disable iTunes’ “You haven’t listened to this podcast in a while” download deactivation setting, again, speak up. I can see why it’s there, and it’s polite and all, but it drives me berserk.

dust mites

March 22nd, 2008

I know one of the most horrific moments of my childhood was when I was informed that no matter how often I bathed, and no matter how hard I cleaned, there would be dust mites all over myself and everything I held dear. They are, apparently, all over everything.

Quite frankly, it still freaks me out.

I was just thinking about the first scientists who developed electron microscopes powerful enough to look at the surface of a dust mite. I wonder if, just for a second, the first scientist to put his eye up to the eyepiece might have wondered: “On the surface of this dust mite, am I going to see little cars and little cities, with little tiny people, wearing little tiny hats and little tiny sweaters, walking around on their dust mite, completely unaware?”

Because I would.


seven easy steps

March 9th, 2008

Thanks to Greg Saulmon, Andrew Shellfo and Caleb Lyons for making last week’s presentation at UMass Amherst go smoothly. The discussion afterwards was genuinely a lot of fun.

If anyone’s interested, a PDF of my part of the presentation is available here, and a t-shirt replete with Internetologist John Gabriel’s most famous (and popular) theorem is available here.